Both the best and worst of Disney’s live action Beauty and the Beast. Emma Watson is perfection as Belle, slipping into the iconic role with the same ease with which she inhabited Hermione Granger. As for the Beast, his shortcomings aren’t with Dan Stevens, but with the CGI that leaves him feeling still too cartoonish and unreal next to Watson.
Most of the visuals in Beauty and the Beast are gorgeous. The supporting characters smack of the same sense of magic that the animated classic delivered in such volumes. And indeed, even Belle’s little provincial village takes on added gravitas with a massive cast twirling and singing through the cobbled streets. A great many of the elements here are spot on, it’s only occasional jarring blips that disturb the illusion of absolute reality.
I have never subscribed to the theory that one thing can ruin another, and so I am loathe to do much in the way of comparison to the animated picture here, but this new look Beauty and the Beast has some fun new additions worth noting. Many of them stem from the suggestions of Emma Watson — it is now Belle who is the inventor in the family, further exasperating the villagers’ conclusion that she’s an “odd girl.” By virtue of the muscles in the human face, she’s able to convey a much more broad range of emotion and step up her exasperated face. She’s also very consistent in a simple hairdo and has ditched the corset and swapped her previous shoes for convenient, action-ready boots. And guess what, she’s still worthy of the label princess, if not queen in the YAS sense of the word. Much has been made of the decision to feature Le Fou in a more or less openly LGBTQ state. But here’s the thing, the movie gets it right because it doesn’t make a big deal out of this.
Meanwhile, the supporting cast is a murderer’s row of talent with Stanley Tucci, Ian McKellan, Ewan McGregor, Emma Thompson, Audra McDonald, Kevin Cline, Josh Gad, Luke Evans and Gugu Mbatha-Raw all turning up as everything from candlesticks and teapots to Belle’s father and would-be suitor, Gaston. In this regard Evans is not as broad as a house, but he’s sufficiently smarmy and self-adoring to sell it. Special props must be given to Emma Thompson for inspiring in viewers a desire to hangout with a teapot, and generally crushing the titular number.
On the whole, Beauty and the Beast is a worthy effort. It will tickle the nostalgia in those who grew up with it and inspire a new generation of fans to love this tale as old as time. By provenance of being a children’s movie, it does skew quite young in certain moments, but the Beast and Belle engaging in spirited exchanges about Shakespeare rather makes up for that. Go to Beauty and the Beast for the songs and Emma Watson, stay for the songs and Emma Watson.